Renowned showjumper Jessica Mendoza talks about the love and partnership that goes into becoming a champion.
Equestrian sports are often a mystery to those who were not raised around horses. There are flags and rails and bells, little hats, and some combination of horses running and jumping. But unlike most sports that are a battle of the individual head-to-head against an opponent, equestrianism is all about a symbiosis. The rider must cultivate a bond with their horses, and the horse and the rider alike must understand each other’s signals and limitations. Together, not against each other, the two players race and jump ever higher and faster towards excellence.
Since she was old enough to hold onto a saddle, Jessica Mendoza has spoken the language of horses. Her years of sport have led her to become the youngest British rider in forty years to make it to the Olympics, as well as earn innumerable awards and international recognition. She, like all equestrians but few other athletes, share her titles and successes with her beloved horses. She’s Mercedes met world-class showjumper Jessica Mendoza at a competition in Wellington, Florida to learn about the love and care necessary to achieve all that horsepower.
You started riding horses at 3 years old. What are your earliest memories with horses?
Riding my pony bareback in the garden with my parents leading me around.
Were you always competitive-minded when it came to horses or did the sport aspect develop later?
I was always competitive. I used to run and play hockey, winning was always very important to me. I think I got some of that from my dad.
Why did you choose show jumping over other equestrian sports like Dressage and Eventing?
I started off doing a bit of eventing and showing but the showjumping was always my love. I loved the height and the speed of the courses.
You are 20 years old but already an incredibly successful equestrian. What have been some of the most rewarding and challenging moments in your career so far?
The most challenging moment was at the World Equestrian Festival, CHIO Aachen. The first few days weren't great for me but the last day I knew my result had to count. So I had to pull myself together and give a counting score to help us qualify for the Olympics. It was very rewarding supporting the team to do that.
What role does teamwork play in your sport?
I think working together with my home team, my grooms and my parents is very important. We all make a plan together and want what is best for the horses. Teamwork is obviously paramount in FEI Nations Cups. I get very nervous for my GBR team members in Nations Cups.
How would you describe the teamwork between you and the horses as opposed to teamwork between you and human team members?
Absolutely the most important thing is to have a relationship with your horse. You need to be able to trust it and it needs to trust you. When I get a new horse, I like to spend time getting used to it and developing a bond before we go into the ring.
Are you involved with the care of the various horses you work with? If so, what is the schedule or routine of that like?
I like to be very involved with my horses care and work routines. Each horse works once a day and comes out of its stable 2-3 times a day. I like my horses to go in the field and enjoy themselves as well as being fit and ready for competition.
Besides equestrianism, what are you passionate about?
Art. I love to paint animals whenever I have time.
For those of us with no experience with either horses or equestrianism, what does the sport involve?
It involves a lot of hard work and longs hours but in the end it always pays off.
What are your career goals?
I would love to win an Olympic medal.
What do you wish everyone knew about horses?
They are not machines. You have to care for them and have a partnership to get results.